Dog ACL surgery is a huge undertaking, so when I heard the snap and pop sound after my dog jumped, I cringed. When my dog tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) the second time around, I had a better understanding of what to expect.
My dog is a Cocker Spaniel who loves to run, jump, and play. The first time he tore the ACL, sometimes called CCL (cranial cruciate ligament) in his rear leg, we tried conservative treatment and management. That year, Dexter had extracapsular surgery to repair his torn ACL along with the removal of a damaged meniscus.
Most veterinary research indicates that dogs who rupture one cruciate ligament have about a 40 to 60 percent chance of rupturing the other.
What Is A Dog’s ACL?
A normal knee joint acts like a hinge. The knee is kept stable when it flexes and extends due to this hinge. When the ACL (or CCL) tears, the knee joint loses its stability and starts functioning in a less than optimal way. In other words, it does not perform as it should.
Imagine a rubber band holding two items together and that rubber band partially or fully tears. That “rubber band” is the anterior cruciate ligament. Dogs can recover as scar tissue fills in the gap of the tear with time, but many dogs go on to a full tear.
Outcomes of Torn ACLs
Degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis will occur along with pain, instability, and an overall change of life’s quality for the dog. I know several folks who managed well with conservative management on a smaller dog (20 pounds or less) that had a torn ACL.
What Is Dog ACL Surgery Like The Second Time?
In all honesty, the second ACL surgery was a repeat of the first. The second time around, we were much more prepared. My dog went through the same surgery, the same postoperative care, and had the same board-certified orthopedic surgeon.
Pet parents who opt not to have surgery on their dog’s ACL tear risk their dog tearing the medial meniscus, which causes even more pain. My dog tore his medial meniscus as part of his ACL tear the first time around. The second time around, since his right stifle was stabilized, the risk of meniscal tear was minimized. When the surgeon had him under anesthesia, he discovered Dexter had a stable meniscus.
Should All Dogs With Torn ACLs Have Surgery?
There is a longly contested debate whether surgery is actually needed in all cases of a torn ACL. In my experience, most dogs progress to a full tear, and then surgery is a must. Each dog should be assessed for the nature and extent of the injury. I am also a proponent of joint supplements and weight management to keep stress off the joints. Most veterinarians would agree.
A recent article I encountered on Veterinary Practice News covers 10 possible consequences of an ACL rupture treated conservatively. I highly advise you to check this out if your dog has an ACL tear or develops one at some point in his or her life.
Dogs can tear an ACL from being overweight or from a chronic standpoint: It develops over time. There are many dogs (present company included) that develop a sudden or acute rupture/tear of the anterior (or cranial) cruciate ligament. My dog is a jumper and he leaped up to catch a squeaky ball like this:
How To Decide If Your Dog Needs ACL Surgery
If your dog suddenly develops a lameness or a limp, seek veterinary attention. The limp might be constant or intermittent. Each dog varies. Dogs can even tear this ligament by jumping out of a car or stepping off a curb, as happened to a friend’s dog.
Do not attempt to self-diagnose or “let it go.” We owe it to our best friends to seek medical help, considering dogs (and cats) may hide the pain from us.
We also recommend the surgeon you choose is board-certified, which is what this ortho specialist is who did Dexter’s surgery.
Our Road to Recovery
ACL repair in dogs is not cheap and isn’t a quick recovery. If I had to do it all again, I would. I am also glad I tried conservative treatment first. However, since that time I’ve learned so much more. I would have just gone ahead with the surgery when he had a partial tear.
We have had veterinary pet health insurance for the past three decades. We love it, have had major success with it, and it covers a huge part of this surgery’s cost. I would do anything I needed to for my dog, but the veterinary insurance really helps.
We are keeping our dog active in a variety of ways since he is on strict rest these first two weeks. A recovering dog need not be a bored dog, and here are ways to entertain your dog postoperatively.
Have you ever faced surgery with your dog(s)? Let us know what types of surgeries your dog(s) have been through in the comments below.